|Beijing flexes missile
By David Isenberg
China's test firing of a new air-to-air missile,
the Russian-made R-77 (known in the West as the AA-12
Adder), in late June is causing accelerated deliveries
of weapons previously ordered by Taiwan as well as
possible new US arms sales to the island.
test, first reported in the July 1 Washington Times,
marked the first time that China had tested the
missiles. They were launched by two Chinese Su-30
fighters at target drones and scored hits.
R-77 missile ("AMRAAMSKI"), researched and manufactured
by the Russian Vympel State Machinery Design Bureau, is
similar to and in some respects equal to the United
States' AIM-120 AMRAAM (advanced medium-range air-to-air
missile). The R-77 is in service with India's upgraded
MiG-21s and in Malaysia.
Like the AMRAAM, it is
a "beyond visual range" missile, meaning the pilot
doesn't have to see the target. The R-77 has an active
radar finder and a maximum range of 90-100 kilometers
(50km more than the AMRAAM), carries a 30-kilogram
high-explosive warhead, and flies at four times the
speed of sound.
The ability to engage air
targets at beyond visual range holds obvious advantages,
as does being able to field an active radar-guided
weapon. Unlike a semi-active missile, an active weapon
does not require the launch aircraft to illuminate the
target during the terminal phase of the engagement. With
an active missile, the launch aircraft can also either
"bug out" of the engagement or launch against another
After the R-77 is launched, it
depends on radar on board the aircraft for mid-course
commands. When it is 20km from its target the warhead's
radar starts working and the missile tracks the target
The missiles are the result of a
deal China signed with Russia in 2000 in order to arm
Sukhoi Su-30MK two-seater multi-role fighters it bought.
The Chinese air force probably will use the new missiles
and planes to replace the less-advanced R-27 now
equipping the country's Su-27s. Unlike the Adder, the
R-27 has to have its target illuminated by the launching
According to a report by Aviation Week
& Space Technology, China will use the Adder to
develop its own active radar-guided beyond-visual-range
air-to-air missile that could be fielded in the latter
half of this decade. While the program, called Project
129 or R129, will draw on critical technologies from the
R-77, it will have an indigenously developed airframe.
It also will be coupled with a Chinese propulsion unit.
Yet the R-77 is not the weapon that will
single-handedly upset the military balance, as some in
the media portray it to be.
For one thing, the
R-77 is hardly a surprise. Peng Chin-ming, director of
the operations bureau of Taiwan's Air Force General
Headquarters, said test-firing was "long expected by the
air force, which has since kept a close watch on the
Taiwan also has its own capabilities
in this area. For example, Taiwan's locally developed
IDFs (indigenous defense fighters) are equipped with
TC-2 missiles that are guided by active radar and have a
maximum range of 60km and a maximum speed of Mach 4.
Taiwan's French-made Mirage 2000-5 jet fighters
are equipped with MICA missiles that are also guided by
active radar. The speed and range of MICA missiles can
reach up to 50km and Mach 3.5, respectively.
addition, in the future Taiwan will take delivery of
US-made AMRAAMs, which will be carried by the F-16 jet
fighter. Taiwan bought 120 of the missiles, made by the
Raytheon Co, in September 2000. This marks a change from
the previous US administration policy that stated that
Taiwan could take delivery only in the future, for fear
of triggering a regional arms race. Until now the
missiles had been stored in Guam.
Taiwan is not
the only country on which the United States has imposed
restrictions for sale of the AMRAAM. When it sold F/A-18
fighters to Thailand in 1996 it required similar
According to the Washington Times,
the AA-12 missile deployment will not be mentioned in
the Pentagon's long-delayed annual report on the
military balance across the Taiwan Strait. The report
has been complete for several months but its release was
held up by Pentagon officials who wanted to avoid
offending Beijing during the May visit to the United
States of Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao. The report
is to be released in the next several days, officials
Taiwanese officials announced they have
prepared "a comprehensive plan" to take delivery of the
missiles. "The air force has mapped out a comprehensive
plan for the delivery of the AIM-120 missiles but we are
unable to disclose the timing for the shipment," a
Defense Ministry official said.
to a report in the current issue of Defense News, the US
government has quietly agreed in principle to allow more
arms sales to Taiwan, a pledge that goes beyond its
April 2001 promise for submarines, destroyers and
surveillance aircraft. The new pledge emerged from talks
conducted under a year-old, lower-profile process for
providing weapons to Taiwan. Specific deals will be
negotiated as Taipei submits written requests for Apache
attack helicopters and other systems.
Predictably, China denounced the transfer of
AMRAAMs to Taiwan. "We firmly oppose any country
interfering in China's internal affairs, or selling
weapons to Taiwan under any excuse," a Foreign Ministry
spokeswoman in Beijing said.
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